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- By Frankie Graddon
In addition to all that, the Californian-born model unequivocally stole the red carpet at the 2021 American Independence-themed Met Gala. Dressed in a custom Ralph Lauren crystal-fringed skirt and white linen-silk shirt, she exuded the wholesome polish and effortless sophistication that has seen her become one of the most sought-after models of current times, not to mention a bona fide style icon.
Although Lily has spent the last two decades working with the biggest names in fashion – from Tommy Hilfiger and Coach, to Victoria’s Secret and Vogue – she hasn’t had enough of the thrill of the industry yet. Calling from her home in Nashville, where she lives with her husband, the lead singer of the Kings of Leon, Caleb Followill, and their two children Dixie, nine, and Winston two, she shares her excitement about the fashion agenda getting back on track following the global pandemic: “I’ve really missed fashion and I’m looking forward to seeing the new collections. I think everybody is excited to see fashion and be inspired again.” We couldn’t agree more.
As we start the autumn season in earnest, life feels like it’s cautiously returning back to normal. With that in mind, what are you most excited about for the months ahead?
I have really missed travelling. This summer, I got to go to Milan for Bvlgari and it was so magical to be back in Europe. I miss London so much! I’m so used to visiting regularly, but I haven’t been in over two years. I’m also looking forward to seeing my designer and creative friends.
You’ve had an amazing modelling career to date: covered numerous magazines, walked in international catwalks, fronted campaigns for global brands. What has been your highlight?
I have had so many ‘oh-my-gosh-pinch-me’ moments, and times when I couldn’t believe what I was getting to do. A really special moment was doing the Fall ’16 Givenchy campaign, with Riccardo Tisci and Mert & Marcus [Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott]. That was a big fashion moment for me and my career that I am very grateful for.
The fashion industry is full of amazing people who do want to move things in a more positive direction. It’s beautiful to see the evolution and so important for future generations.
Do you think the glossy perfection of social media makes it harder to accept failure?
Instagram highlights all of the magical and beautiful moments in the day, but there’s so much more that happens. It’s important to remind people that it’s OK to have ups and downs. It’s very difficult, but maybe that will lead you to the next big thing.
Speaking of Instagram, you are known for using your social media platforms for philanthropic purposes. Can you tell us about the causes close to your heart?
Helping children has always been something I’ve been drawn to, even before having my own. Here in America, we have a programme called No Kid Hungry, which makes sure children get the meals they need over the summer. A lot of children get meals at school, so when school’s out for the holidays it’s a really difficult time – especially during Covid. I also do a lot with a children’s hospital here in Nashville called St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which gives kids the best care in the world and doesn’t bill families. It also shares its research all over the world to help end cancer. There are so many important causes that are dear to my heart and I try to do as much as I can to raise awareness and support them.
Instagram highlights all of the magical and beautiful moments in the day, but there’s so much more that happens. It’s important to remind people that it’s OK to have ups and downs.
Which self-care rituals do you rely on?
I am all about taking a bath; it’s the thing I do for myself, and the moment when I stop and reflect on what I’m grateful for. There’s something about it that really grounds me – it’s my happy place. I’ll light a candle and use beautiful products, such as Goop’s bath salts and bath bombs from Lush.
People might not know that you’re somewhat of a bookworm. What titles are currently on your reading list?
I have to say, reading is one of my greatest pleasures in life. One of the only things I requested when our decorators were helping me decorate my bedroom was a bookshelf – and, of course, a bathtub! I actually started a book club with my best friend about six months ago and it’s been one of the most fun things I’ve done as a grown-up. Right now we are reading E-Squared by Pam Grout, before that we read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The first book we read was The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I recommend it to anyone who wants to open up their creativity. It’s an incredible book, I found it life-changing.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the season ahead?
I feel so grateful at the moment and can’t wait to see what new doors will open. I’m excited to travel again; my husband is about to do a big tour, so I’m looking forward to taking the kids with us and exploring. After being at home, I can’t wait to get out there and see our beautiful world.
How did you get into the modelling world?
I kind of fell into it. I actually thought I was going to be a professional soccer player, but I was model-scouted in my teenage years. When I told my friends I was a model, they were in disbelief – nobody would have guessed that was the direction I was going to go in. I moved to New York when I was 18 and took it seriously, and it all fell into place. I am very fortunate because it’s an amazing job.
When did you realise you’d made it?
Shooting Vogue for the first time was obviously such an exciting moment. I was on page 40 and I still have a copy. My mum went to the news stand and bought 20 copies. She keeps an archive of me and my little sister [Ruby Aldridge], we’re all over her house. I still get excited any time I’m in a magazine that I love, shooting editorials and getting to create with creative people.
The fashion calendar is notoriously fast-paced. How do you balance such a busy schedule with being a parent?
Such a huge part of my work/life balance is that my family comes with me when I travel, so usually I’ll bring my children with me to Fashion Week. I’ve always been fortunate to work with companies and teams who are really supportive of me being a working mother and are flexible. I always make it a priority to work everything around my children’s schedules, so that they are there for all of the important moments.
For many, the pandemic has given us a moment to re-evaluate our work/life balance as we’ve spent less time travelling to places of work and more time at home. How has this period affected your working mindset?
It’s always been a balance for me because I’m a mum, but when everything slowed down, it let me refocus. I’ve always tried to be present, but that period of time has definitely made me even more so, and taught me to enjoy the moment, the little things and being at home. Before the pandemic, I was working a lot and always on the go and didn’t realise that I wasn’t taking everything in. So, it’s made me realise how important it is to slow down. That being said, of course I’ve missed traveling.
Rejection is part and parcel of the modelling world and something you’ve talked honestly about in the past. How have you learned to deal with these setbacks, and how has it shaped your approach to work?
It’s important to talk about rejection because I think what a lot of people with success will say is: I’ve had a ton of failures to get here, a lot of closed doors, a lot of people who didn’t believe in me. So it’s really valuable sharing those stories, to let people know that it’s OK to have those moments, but it doesn’t define you. I’ve had jobs I’ve got kicked off and catwalk shows I didn’t get – it’s part of the industry. Of course it can hurt your feelings, but it also helps you grow. I’m grateful for all those moments in my career because they’ve got me to where I am now.
The world has been through a huge period of flux over the past 18 months. Though challenging, it has been a moment for the fashion industry to stop and reflect on areas that could be done better: sustainability, representation, equality. How do you hope the industry moves forward as we emerge from this period?
The fashion industry is full of amazing people who do want to move things in a more positive direction. So many brands, companies and creatives are doing such a good job of making the industry a place where everyone feels welcome and loved. It’s beautiful to see the evolution and so important for future generations.
Whether on the red carpet or off duty, you never fail to look pulled together. How do you approach getting dressed?
I always dress for my mood. I actually plan what I’m going to wear the night before, then I usually wake up and change it, depending on how I’m feeling. I’m also very influenced by where I am, be it London, New York, Nashville, L.A. I’m very inspired by the energy of the city. If I’ve been listening to rock and roll music, I’ll dress a little differently. So I don’t like to say I have one style, I like to make the possibilities endless and not follow any rules. I always like to have my kids’ clothes picked out the night before, too.
Which pieces are on your new season wish list?
I always love the new boot shapes that come out each season, especially in the Fall. I am still very much into combat boots – The Row has chic styles that I’ll wear with long dresses. I’m also into pleated skirts, almost like the ones I used to wear at school. Riccardo [Tisci] did a really cool Burberry one. I was just shooting Ralph Lauren yesterday and they have an amazing one coming out for the holiday season. I’m very excited for it to be cool enough to wear one with a blazer and combat boots. I feel like, in the winter, my looks are chicer because I can layer.
Having spent years working with hair and make-up artists on shoots and shows, you must have some brilliant beauty tips. What’s your favourite?
I love those globes you put in the freezer and then massage on to your face to de-puff. They are one of the best things you can do in the morning when you want to look fresher, and I always use them if my eyes are looking a little swollen.
What are the hero products in your beauty cabinet?
I am obsessed with my friend Miranda’s [Kerr] beauty line KORA. I’ve been using it for about 10 years, since I was pregnant with my daughter, as she was one of the first to do all-natural beauty products. The new Turmeric Glow moisturiser is absolutely incredible. It comes in beautiful packaging, which has a refillable pod so it’s more sustainable. I also use Tata Harper and Westman Atelier’s clean makeup, and Noble Panacea‘s balm for nighttime. I adore trying new products, so I’m always rotating my beauty shelf.